THE LAST CHILD
excerpt from a companion story to The Last Zombie Series
Her parents never came home after the electricity went out, and now thirteen-year-old Phoebe Davis must evade the undead and navigate the apocalyptic landscape of her street if she’s ever going to find a familiar face again.
ALL HER life—thirteen years that now felt like they’d passed in the blink of an eye—Phoebe Davis had been afraid of the dark.
Way more than the average kid, too. Way more by a bunch. She wasn’t allowed to watch scary movies because of it, and her parents even took her to see a therapist last year.
“A waste of time and money,” Dad mumbled in the kitchen one night.
Phoebe never understood why it was such a big surprise. The darkness was where monsters and death lingered, where things leapt out at you, where shadows bared their teeth. For years, fear of the dark plagued her, despite her white-and-pastel-pink decor and carpet and stuffed animals and bedding. Despite her pink Himalayan salt nightlights. Despite the melatonin supplements her mom made her take.
Nothing ever worked. The darkness would not be fooled.
But as her bedroom door crashed open and Phoebe scooted into the back corner of her walk-in closet, she suddenly found herself cherishing the pitch black that cloaked her. It was the only protection she had left against the nightmare taking place outside—a nightmare that had finally come into her home.
A man’s boots made muted thuds on the carpet as he stormed into the room. Phoebe squeezed her eyes shut and buried her face in her arms. She tried not to cry. If she cried, he might hear her. She wanted her mom and dad so badly, but the day the electricity went out, they never came home from work, and for the past three days she’d been all alone, afraid to go outside, afraid to go downstairs, afraid to so much as leave her room—even before the zombies came.
If the man who’d broken into the house opened her closet door, he wouldn’t see her at first—her long dresses and giant stuffed teddy hid her well—but he would see the mess she’d made. Peanut butter jar, pickle jar, loaf of bread, cookies, cereal, plates, napkins, silverware—all the things she’d collected from the kitchen so she would only have to leave the closet to go to the bathroom.
He would see her mess, and then he would find her.
But the muted steps suddenly turned into loud clomping as the intruder left her room and headed down the hallway, and Phoebe gasped, having held her breath for what might be a world record time. She sat perfectly still and listened as hard as she could, interpreting his location in the house from the sounds he was making, until finally the only thing she heard was the ringing in her ears. The sound of silence. Tinnitus—she’d learned that at school.
But that wasn’t all she heard. Not really. The low and constant rumble of them had become like the hum from the air ducts. You don’t realize you can hear it until you think about it.
This sound was a conglomerate of groans and growls and the occasional vocalization that almost sounded like an actual word. Phoebe was good with words for her age. She’d gotten conglomerate and vocalization right on her spelling tests this year. But she wasn’t good at scary things. Maybe if she hadn’t been so afraid of the dark, her parents would have let her watch zombie movies and she would have known what to expect. The scariest thing of all wasn’t the groans, and it wasn’t the growls. It was those occasional shouts, the ones that stood out from all the rest, the ones that sounded like the dead were speaking.
A man’s voice. Bellowed like the scream of a person falling to their death. But had he really said her? Might he have been saying hurt but lacked the muscle strength in his face and tongue to sound out the last letter? Huuuuur—
Or was it just a random noise?
Pareidolia, the incorrect perception of a stimulus. Common in those who are afraid of the dark. But Phoebe didn’t learn that word in school, and it wasn’t on a spelling test. Her therapist had taught it to her after asking if she ever saw faces in the dark. She hadn’t, but she sure did that night, which was why Dad decided Dr. Angela was a waste of time and money. “We’re paying her to fix the problem, not make it worse.” His snappish tone scared her as much as the darkness.
And that was that. No more therapy. Instead, a frustrated sigh as Mom impatiently tucked her into bed. Just sleep with the light on, Phoebe.
Phoebe mustered the courage to open the closet door. Then the bedroom door. Then she tiptoed down the hall to the balcony overlooking the living room, feeling extra vulnerable for being barefoot. Taking a deep breath, she peeked around the corner.
The front door was standing wide open.
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